How much is too much?
Some strange murmurs have been making the rounds in Indian cricket circles in the last week or so.
It all began with reports in the media suggesting that someone from the team had written a letter to the Board of Control for Cricket in India about the volume of cricket being played. The players, the report went on to say, were less than happy with the amount of meaningless cricket being played, and that they were unable to be at their very best for the big games as a result.
Typically, the Board of Control for Cricket in India did not respond in any manner for the first few days, and only after the story caught fire on television channels and newspapers, came forward. When they did respond, N Srinivasan, the secretary, and Rajiv Shukla, the vice-president and spokesman, made it absolutely clear that “no player” had written such a letter to the Board.
What they still have not clarified, however, is whether the coach, Gary Kirsten, or team manager, Ranjib Biswal, wrote a letter on behalf of the players. This is somewhat typical of the Board, and only eternal optimists expect them to respond in a transparent and clear manner.
Why, even the small matter of Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina returning home from Sri Lanka, for a couple of days, with all necessary permission obtained in advance, was shrouded in secrecy and deceit.
What the letter – real or imaginary, written by a player or coach – has done, however, is create a debate in the media and among the public about whether India’s players are overworked.
As is so often the case, the answer lies not merely in the volume of cricket India is playing, but the manner in which their assignments are scheduled. Man for man, several Australians played more cricket than a majority of Indians in the last year, but the critical difference was that they had enough time between series and also an off-season, however truncated.
Surprisingly, it’s injury-prone all-rounder Shane Watson, who played the most days of cricket, the website Cricinfo revealed. Watson, with 111 days of action, was followed by team-mates Mike Hussey (105) and Mitchell Johnson (104). Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the engine of this Indian team in three different formats, came in fourth with 94 days in the office.
There are other Indians in the top 20 – Virender Sehwag (89), Harbhajan Singh (83), Sachin Tendulkar (82), but none of the others played even 80 days.
Cricketers from around the world have played just as many days, in some cases ageing cricketers like all-rounder Jacques Kallis.
So, it’s not really a case of India playing too much cricket, but one of very little thinking going into the scheduling.
The Indian team, apparently, have now asked that they be given a chance to reach South Africa a week early for their tour later in the year. South Africa is one of those countries India have not won a Test series in, and batsmen traditionally take time to acclimatise to the extra pace and lateral movement off the pitches. Their request would strike most cricket followers as a fair and simple one.
But how will the BCCI react?
If their reaction to the suggestion of a letter talking about too much cricket is anything to go by, there’s little reason to be optimistic.